Mapping Africa Seafloor

Known Existing Sea Floor data locations from around Africa including those available in the IOC/IHO General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans © GEBCO

Much of the ocean is unknown and one of recurring challenge cited is insufficient data to support the harnessing of the Ocean economy in Africa. It is to this end, a two-part webinar series entitled “Mapping the Seafloor around Africa” was jointly organized by the UNESCO/IOC Sub Commission for Africa and the Adjacent Island States (IOCAFRICA) and the Nippon Foundation - GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project’s Regional Center for the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, on 18 February and 24 February 2021. The webinars brought together stakeholders from the region to discuss bathymetry status and needs with the goal of uniting the seafloor mapping community to explore the challenges and opportunities in seafloor mapping around Africa.

The first session of the series titled Status of Seafloor Mapping in Africa, held on 18 February, focused on taking stock of achievements gained in mapping the seafloor around Africa as well as introducing the Nippon Foundation - GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project, and a review of data currently included in the freely-available GEBCO ocean map for Africa. Further, presentations were made by regional coordination groups including UNESCO/IOCAFRICA, the UNEP Nairobi Convention Secretariat, Benguela Current Commission and The Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 Project.

UNESCO/IOC programmes such as Ocean Data Archaeology, Oceanographic Expeditions, Coastal and Marine Atlases, and the Ocean Information Hub are instrumental in contributing towards the mapping of the region’s seafloor as well as improving access and capacity to utilize ocean data.
Mr. Mika Odido, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Coordinator in Africa

He further outlined that the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development offers opportunities for partnerships especially in capacity development - focusing on:  ocean mapping to meet growing needs of big data analysis and visualization; developing ocean mapping applications that support sustainable blue economy, marine spatial planning and SDG implementation and; strengthening data collection capacities through the deployment of innovative technologies.

The second session of the series titled Achieving Comprehensive Seafloor Mapping in Africa by 2030, held on 24 February aimed to identify means to collaboratively develop strategies and priorities, for actively engaging stakeholders to help reach the common goal of a comprehensive seafloor mapping in Africa by 2030.

Three mapping initiatives were highlighted: iAtlantic, the Crowdsourced Bathymetry and Seabed 2030 coordination for the Southern African and Islands Hydrographic Commission, and Academic-Industry Collaboration in South Africa. Discussion on how to meet the user-needs with respect to mapping the seafloor; ways of enabling knowledge and data sharing in the region and; the best ways of leveraging on global efforts including Seabed 2030 and the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development to help efforts for bathymetry mapping around Africa were the focus.

It was agreed that stakeholders’ collaboration and coordination are absolutely critical in achieving the bold goal of comprehensively mapping the seafloor around Africa by 2030. This can be achieved through identifying and taking advantage of opportunities provided by maritime industries (Oil & Gas, Fisheries, Tourism, Transport, etc.) to gather important marine ecosystem data which would otherwise be difficult and expensive to obtain. In addition, it was clear that knowledge and data sharing is necessary in efforts to promote local and regional research as stimulating interest and mobilizing continued research within the field of bathymetry in the region.

Finally, the participants agreed that there was a need for working towards the formulation of a collaborative and coordinated plan to map the seafloor around Africa and share resulting data and knowledge.